Rodney Munemo reviews Looking for Mother by Nkosiyazi Kan Kanjiri

This book’s forte is the exploration of mother as life’s fulcrum.

For me, Nkosiyazi Kan Kanjiri, the writer of the poetry collection called Looking for Mother, is an all-rounder poet who, at one point could be a Messi, Mbappe, Sachin Tendulkah or perhaps Leonardo Davinci.

There are people who stand out and have some finesse in whatever they do.

For me, the list of his equivalents is endless, from Apostle Paul, Bob Marley, Pele, Michael Jordan to Denzel Washington, among others.

In Looking for Mother, which became a Nama Award nominee in the poetry category for 2024, the poem itself is a marvel of simplicity. Kanjiri uses short lines and stripped-down metaphors, creating an impact that is both immediate and profound. He tackles complex emotions like stress in just eight lines, highlighting its unnecessary burden on our lives.

Kanjiri opens with a poem that dwells on the character of a mother who is battered relentlessly by her husband (and the world too) as the children watch. Mother endures all kinds of pain, but she is strong enough to give out vibes of heaven because she was taught to face adversity with all the dignity possible. This transcendental poem highlights the complexity of human emotions and the strength in the face of adversity.

Looking for Mother itself serves as a mirror to the struggles many individuals face in their daily lives, shedding light on the importance of acknowledging and addressing mental health issues.

Through short, blunt verses, Kanjiri captures the essence of pain, love, heartbreak, and resilience with striking simplicity, coming close to the methods of the late Zimbabwean poet Chenjerai Hove. For example, the poem I Lied goes:

“I said,

“You’re the moon and the stars combined.”

I lied.

“You’re flames set on fire.”’

This very short piece confronts the readers with harsh realities, challenging them to confront their own misconceptions and illusions about love and beauty.

The juxtaposition of innocence and maturity, as seen in the contrast between children chasing butterflies, in one of the poems, and adults navigating the complexities of life, further underscores the book's exploration of the human experience:

“Butterflies carry love on their wings.

Only kids can chase butterflies.

Adults cannot.”

In that poem, children chase butterflies, symbolising the pure joy of finding beauty in the simple things. Adults, however, have seemingly lost this innocence and their hearts hardened by experience.

Kanjiri's ability to find beauty in pain and victory in suffering, offers a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness.

His poems remind us that laughter can coexist with sadness and that regret should not imprison us, but rather inspire us to seek the beauty that still surrounds us.

By encouraging readers to embrace both the light and the shadows, Looking for Mother offers a profound meditation on the human condition and the enduring power of the human spirit.

Therefore Looking for Mother transcends the realm of a mere poetry collection. It is a raw and resonant exploration of the human experience, particularly the ubiquitous presence of pain and the breathtaking resilience that allows us to rise above it. The poet sets the tone with the opening poem, "Hell, Heaven and Home." The mother in that poem is carrying water and fire in the same mouth.

Often what matters is experience gained and not the separation that comes with divorce:

“It is

the stars we counted together that matter.


We even gave them names.”

For Kanjiri what is done cannot be undone. The pain can be banked but it cannot be frowned upon because the pain came through the process of searching for what is valuable:

“Sorry, I ripped

Your heart in

Search of mine.”

This beautifully encapsulates the book's central theme: pain comes with simply being human.

Kan Kanjiri's genius lies in his ability to challenge hypocrisy. He blasts the reader with poems like the one comparing loveless kisses to bee stings, forcing us to confront the emotional emptiness we sometimes tolerate.

The juxtaposition of pain and victory is another hallmark of this collection. One captivating poem, “scars” exemplifies this beautifully. It shows the protagonist emerging victorious from the clutches of darkness. Looking for Mother is not just a search for a literal mother figure. It's a universal quest for solace, understanding, and ultimately, self-discovery. Kan Kanjiri's words leave a lasting impression, urging us to acknowledge our pain, celebrate our resilience, and rediscover the beauty that exists even in the most challenging landscapes of life.

I regard Nkosiyazi Kan Kanjiri as the Leonardo Da Vinci of Zimbabwean poetry. Just like da Vinci wasn't confined to just painting or engineering, Kan Kanjiri isn't restricted to a single poetic theme. His poems encompass a vast spectrum of human experiences – the brutality of domestic violence, the ache of lost innocence, the pangs of heartbreak, and the triumphant spirit of love reborn.

This mirrors da Vinci's insatiable curiosity that led him to explore anatomy, astronomy, and engineering with equal fervour.

Kanjiri also carries da Vinci’s Vivid Expression. Kanjiri's words, like da Vinci's brushstrokes, possess a dramatic and powerful expressiveness. This aligns with da Vinci's mastery of light and shadow, and his ability to imbue his paintings with an almost lifelike quality.

Then there is the Emotional Innovation: Similar to da Vinci's ground-breaking inventions, Kanjiri's approach to poetry feels fresh and innovative. He doesn't shy away from tackling complex issues, and his use of short lines and blunt metaphors creates a unique and impactful style. This parallels da Vinci's willingness to challenge conventional thinking and explore uncharted territories in both art and science.

Then there is the Untapped Potential: There's a hidden depth to Kan Kanjiri's poems, much like da Vinci's notebooks filled with unpublished ideas. Just as da Vinci's genius extended far beyond his known works, Kan Kanjiri's poems hint at a wellspring of emotions and experiences waiting to be explored. This unseen potential adds another layer of intrigue to both the artist and his art.

This book’s forte is the exploration of mother as life’s fulcrum. From now on, I am waiting to see if Kanjiri’s next book is going to be about father. If mother represents various forms of suffering and immediate recovery, what does father stand for? I cannot wait!

About reviewer

Rodney T Munemo identifies himself as both a sociologist and a social anthropologist. Currently he is pursuing a PhD with the school of political and social sciences at the University of Edinburgh. Rodney is a recipient of the coveted Edinburgh-Leiden studentship, awarded in 2022 in recognition of his academic excellence. His current doctoral research delves into the critical nexus of youth wait hood, liminalities, urban poverty, development and religious infrastructures in Zimbabwe. He remains deeply invested in exploring inclusive education, the transformative potential of online learning, and the complexities of gender and land governance in Zimbabwe. His dedication to these diverse fields reflects a multifaceted and intellectually curious scholar. Email: [email protected]

About the author

Nkosiyazi Kan Kanjiri is co-author of a ZIMSEC ‘O’ Level poetry set book, New Voices  Diversity Dawns. He is second winner of Drama For Life Online Poetry Contest held by the University of Witswatersrand in 2017, South Africa. In 2019, his poems were selected for the South African AVBOB poetry project and in 2020, some of his poems were published by Fundza Literary Trust, a non-profit organisation dedicated to increase literacy amongst teenagers and young adults in South Africa. Nkosiyazi has contributed poems to three poetry anthologies, Eagle on Iroko (2016), Zimbolicious: An Anthology of Zimbabwean Literature and Arts Volume 3 (2017) and Best “New” African Poets (2018). Looking For Mother is his first solo book and it earned him a NAMA nomination. Nkosie was born and raised in Zimbabwe, he graduated from the University of Fort Hare in South Africa and currently lives in England.

Related Topics